While directing a fledgling student and his mother towards the Admissions Office one morning, I obligatorily revealed that I’m a religious studies student. The mother instantly began quizzing me on definitions of the “more secular” belief systems, and after casual discussion declared, “That’s it! I’m an agnostic. I’ve always wondered what I am”. She left me triumphantly, as I apparently defined her beliefs for her in a mere two minutes.
The language implemented by theologians is confusing. What makes matters worse is that individuals are quick to label themselves without a real understanding of what it implies. Even more bewildering, often the term itself has one technical definition, and then a more stigmatized, popular definition.
In a secular era, where Richard Dawkins is touted as an authority in religious matters, the popular perception of God is often tainted by an irresponsible misuse and overextension of explosive terminology. Coupled with a sudden outpour of anti-religion, ‘pro-reason’ texts, there are also films like Bill Maher‘s Religulous (religion + ridiculous) which implement terms without first deriving meaning, promoting uneducated conclusions by those who imbibe.
What is perhaps most frustrating for the spectrum of ‘sans-theists’ is that the thing they’re lacking—a religious experience—cannot be defined. The moment or spirit tends to be unmediated by linguistic representation. Rudolf Otto referred to the religious phenomenon as the numinous; the notion being that if a religious experience were able to be defined proper, it wasn’t a true experience.
The most weighted term in all of theology is undeniably atheism. Atheism (a-theist) indicates being contrary or opposed to theism. Terms such as nontheist or irreligion have been tossed about, all promoting the same thing: the individual does not believe in deities. New-Atheism, the Atheism of Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens, boldly promotes that God does not exist for anyone. They support their belief with science and intellectualism, however their presumption includes the argument that we are born atheists (are we born contrary to unknown knowledge?) and a number of untruths…
The New-Atheists are not the first to explain away religion through societal truths, nor are they the first to deny others of their chosen deity or belief-system. They have, however, inspired non-religious Americans to disavow belief based on ill-founded reasoning. Belief, another hard word to describe, simply means “what one believes to be true”; as I cannot properly define your belief system, these scientists do not have the authority to declare millions of spiritual people delusional—spiritual authority only derives from the individual. It is therefore the responsibility of the individual to stop and think, as inwardly as possible, and define belief for themselves.